UCD 19 Clontarf 24
The slate grey sky and heavy downpour were replaced by one of brilliant blue and warm sunshine by the time the teams lined up to honour the late Brian Mullins. An iconic midfielder with the Dublin Gaelic football team, he wore many hats in his life, as a teacher, sportsman and latterly director of sport in UCD.
He tended to stand in largely the same spot while watching UCD rugby matches in the Bowl, a quiet, unobtrusive presence. Rugby was part of his sporting education. He played for Leinster as a teenager and his local club, Clontarf, so it was apposite that the first match after his death should be contested by the two clubs with which he had such an affinity.
The only disturbance to the minute’s silence was the distant sound of a hockey ball hitting a backboard. Clontarf travelled across the Liffey as All-Ireland champions and left with the spoils, eventually managing to subdue a spirited UCD team, the reward a four-try, bonus point haul.
There were trace elements in the game that underlined its early season status but enough quality and enterprise to keep an enthusiastic crowd in good voice. Included in the number was former Leinster and Clontarf player Ben Gissing, back in Ireland for a short visit, before returning to resume his coaching position at the University of Queensland.
Andy Wood’s Clontarf team were physically bigger and more powerful up front and periodically made that advantage tell while Matt D’Arcy’s ageless quality in the centre remains undiminished, albeit that he may have been more than a little surprised at how easily he found gaps on occasion.
And then there is 27-year-old hooker Dylan Donnellan, a try scoring nemesis for the opposition, 19 scores last season and two in the first match of the new campaign.
UCD number eight Sean O’Brien was superbly defiant, one of the few capable of winning collisions and getting his team front foot ball, so too hooker Bobby Sheehan, younger brother of Dan, while centre Ben Brownlee and wings Dylan O’Grady and Chris Cosgrave used footwork and pace to cause problems for the visitors.
Rough edges were exposed in defence, but UCD played some good rugby in attack and with head coach Kevin Croke and Ian Wyse able to call upon Mark McDermott, Bobby Byrne and Stephen Aboud as a support network, there is the promise of progressing those patterns as the season evolves.
UCD scored first, flanker Mark Fleming touching down from a five-metre lineout, only for Clontarf to respond in kind, Donnellan doing likewise at the back of a lineout maul. O’Brien satisfied referee Johnny Erskine that he had grounded the ball correctly after surging over the line off the back of a scrum; the Clontarf supporters would argue that it was more slam dunk than touch down.
Tim Corkey’s conversion gave UCD a 12-7 lead. Clontarf would have taken the lead if Tadhg Bird had passed to the unmarked Hugh Cooney rather than take on the last defender, an action for which he immediately apologised, but then did when loosehead prop Ivan Soroka forced his way over from close range. Conor Kelly’s conversion allowed the visitors to enjoy a 14-12 advantage at the interval.
Michael Courtney outran the cover following D’Arcy’s midfield break two minutes after the restart, to extend Clontarf’s advantage which they stretched further with Donnellan’s second try to leave them 24-12 in front.
In between those two tries UCD has several chances as they laid siege to the Clontarf line but despite the visitors losing two players, Cormac Daly, and Cooney, to yellow cards – there was an argument for a penalty try at one point – the Students could not figure out how to manufacture a definitive breach.
The home side, playing into a strong wind, continued to pursue an expansive approach, and were rewarded on 69 minutes when O’Grady chipped, re-gathered, and sent David Ryan over unopposed for a try, which Corkery converted to guarantee the home side a losing bonus point.
By the final whistle there was something tangible for both sides, and in the week in question, a reckoning which might have satisfied Brian Mullins.
8 mins: Fleming try, 5-0; 14: Donnellan try, Kelly conversion, 5-7; 22: O’Brien try, Corkery conversion, 12-7; 29: Soroka try, Kelly conversion, 12-14. Half-time: 12-14. 42: Courtney try, 12-19; 61: Donnellan try, 12-24; 69: Ryan try, Corkery conversion, 19-24.
UCD: H Donnelly; C Cosgrave, D Ryan, B Brownlee, D O’Grady; T Corkery, M Moloney; H O’Malley, B Sheehan (capt), E Coyle; J Fish, M Morrissey; B Burns, M Fleming, S O’Brien.
Replacements: Hill for O’Brien (32-40 mins), R Gilsenan for Moloney (62 mins), J Tarrant for Ryan (79 mins).
Clontarf: T Bird; H Cooney, M Courtney, M D’Arcy, C O’Donoghue; C Kelly, A Lloyd; I Soroka, D Donnellan, B Griffin; F Gilbert, C Daly; J O’Dea, M Moloney, T Ryan.
Replacements: C Kearns for O’Donoghue (44 mins), JP Phelan for Griffin (52 mins), E Kelly for Gilbert (61 mins), S Owens for D’Arcy (79 mins).
Yellow card: C Daly (45 mins), H Cooney (53 mins).
Referee: J Erskine (IRFU)